Pay attention – words many of us have heard from our parents or our tutors. Great advice. In today’s busy word we are bombarded with messages and information from all areas. Our ability to pay attention gives us the filter to keep out what we don’t need and to help make choices. Attention is key to the Toltec advice given by Don Miguel Ruiz in his book, “The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom”. Thousands of years ago, the Toltec were known throughout southern Mexico as Women and men of knowledge – another reason to pay attention – and Ruiz believes if we follow their advice we can attain “personal freedom”.
During our life we have used our attention to learn how to behave; what to believe and what not to believe; what is acceptable and what is not acceptable; what is good and what is bad; what is right and what is wrong. But how did we learn? By learning from others: through their examples. As children, we didn’t have the opportunity to choose our beliefs, but we believed what that was passed to us from family and friends. We agreed to agree and put out trust in their advice.
Having taken on these beliefs we form an image of perfection, an image we try to live up to. The problem is, we set the barrier to high. We are all human and have failings. We see it as a major challenge to meet perfection and consequently we are not good enough for ourselves. We’re hard on ourselves for not being what we wish to be, or rather what we believe we should be. Ruiz, taking the advice of the Toltecs suggests the most important person we must is ourselves.
While there are many pledges we make with other people to demonstrate our worth, the most important promises are the ones we made with ourselves. In these agreements we tell ourselves who we are, what we feel, what we believe, and how to behave. The result is our personality. Ruiz tells us to follow the four agreements of the Toltecs as our guide. Using them, we can ensure our promises create the foundation for self-satisfaction: pride in ourselves.
The First Agreement – Be Impeccable with Your Word
Wow! Big words – what does it mean? Let’s break it down and start with “your word”. We often use this phrase. “Your word is your promise”. “I’ll take your word for it”. “You have my word”. In each of these phrases your word is a commitment to truth. It’s the way you intend to live, to deliver your obligations.
Now let us see what the word impeccable means. Faultless. Flawless. Perfect. Spotless, Above reproach. Riaz gives us another definition: Impeccable comes from the Latin pecatus, which means “sin.” The “im” in impeccable means “without,” so impeccable means “without sin.”
Everything we say that goes against ourselves is a failing, such as when we judge or blame ourselves for things. Being impeccable is not putting ourselves down. When we are impeccable, we take responsibility for our actions, but we do not judge or blame ourselves. So being impeccable with our word is not to use the word against ourselves.
Looking at everyday human interactions, imagine how many times we put down others with our words. It’s called gossip. It has become the way we feel close to each other, because it makes us feel better to see someone else feel as badly as we do. Ruiz uses the analogy of the human mind as a computer where gossip can be compared to a computer virus. Once infected with a virus the computer doesn’t work appropriately.
According to Ruiz, if we follow the first agreement, we can begin to make the changes to a more productive life. Changes in the way we feel about ourselves followed by changes in the way we deal with other people, especially those who have an influence over us. If we follow the first agreement we can start to progress to a more positive state of mind. Being impeccable to our word is the first step on our recovery.
The Second Agreement – Don’t Take Anything Personally
Ruiz suggests taking things personally, is the greatest statement of selfishness because we make the assumption that everything is about “me.” But nothing other people do is because of us. It is because of themselves. People live in their own dream, in their own mind; they are in a completely different world from the one we live in. When we take something personally, we make the assumption that they know what is in our world, and we try to impose our world on their world.
When we take negative comments personally, we feel offended, and our reaction is to defend our beliefs and create conflicts. We can make something big out of nothing, because we need to be right and make everybody else wrong. Even the opinions we have about ourselves are not necessarily true; so even then, we don’t need to take them personally.
People lie for many reasons and we even lie to ourselves. If we lie to ourselves so do others so what they may say to us may be an un-truth. Ruiz suggests we have to trust ourselves and choose to believe or not to believe what someone says.
When we make it a habit not to take anything personally, we can avoid many upsets in life. Our anger, jealousy, envy and even our pessimism will simply disappear if we don’t take things personally. We won’t need to place our trust in what others do or say. We will only need to trust ourselves to make responsible choices.
We are never responsible for the actions of others; we are only responsible for our own. When you realise this, and refuse to take things personally the negative comments or actions of others will pass us by.
The Third Agreement – Don’t Make Assumptions
Ruiz points out, the problem with making assumptions is that we believe they are the truth. We could swear they are real. We make assumptions about what others are doing or thinking — we take it personally — then we blame them and react by sending “emotional poison” with our words.
Because we are afraid to ask for clarification, we make assumptions, and believe we are right; we then defend our assumptions and try to make someone else wrong. Ruiz suggests its always better to ask questions than to make an assumption, because assumptions set us up for a fall.
Even if we hear something and we don’t understand, we make assumptions about what it means and then believe the assumptions. We make the assumption that everyone sees life the way we do. We assume that others think the way we think, feel the way we feel, judge the way we judge.
The way to keep ourselves from making assumptions is to ask questions. We need to makes sure the communication is clear. If we don’t understand, we ask. We need to have the courage to ask questions until we are clear as we can be, and even then not to assume we know all there is to know.
Ruiz points out, when we hear the answer, we will not have to make assumptions because we will know the truth.
The Fourth Agreement – Always Do Your Best
Here it is in plain fact: under any circumstance, always do your best, no more and no less.
However, we need to keep in mind that our best is never going to be the same from one moment to the next. Everything is changing all the time, so our best will sometimes be high quality, and other times it will not be quite as good. Our best will depend on how we are feeling.
If you try too hard to do more than our best, we will spend more energy than is needed and in the end our best will not be enough. When you overdo it, we run ourselves down and it will take us longer to accomplish our goal. But if we do less than our best, we inevitably get frustrated and trigger self-judgment, guilt, and regrets.
Most people only take action when they expect a reward, and they don’t enjoy the action. That’s the reason why they don’t do their best. On the other hand, if we take action just for the sake of doing it, without expecting a reward, we will find that we enjoy every action we take. Rewards will come, but we are not attached to the reward.
If we like what we do, if we always do our best, then we are really enjoying life. We are having fun, we don’t get bored, we don’t have frustrations.
Ruiz puts it bluntly: Action is about living fully. Inaction is the way that we deny life. Inaction is sitting in front of the television every day for years because we are afraid to be alive and to take the risk of expressing what we are. Expressing what we are is taking action. We can have many great ideas in our head, but what makes the difference is the action. Without action upon an idea, there will be no innovation, no results, and no reward.
The first three agreements will only work if we do our best. We should not expect that we will always be able to be impeccable with our word. Just do our best. We should not expect that we will never take anything personally; just do our best. We should not expect that we will never make another assumption, but we can certainly do your best.
If we’re doing our best, we will feel good about ourselves even if we still make assumptions, still take things personally, and still are not impeccable with our word.
Breaking Old Agreements
Ruiz suggests the first step toward personal freedom is awareness. We need to be aware that we are not free in order to be free. We need to be aware of what the problem is in order to solve the problem.
Every time we face one of the fears we are a little more free. We need to stop feeding the fear. To do this we have to gain control of our emotions, we have to refrain from fueling the emotions that come from fear. If you have the awareness that the whole drama of our life is the result of what we believe, and what we believe is not real, then you can begin to change it.